Saturday, June 9, 2018

Workshop on Identifying and Combating Disinformation (IEEE Big Data 2018)

About eighteen months ago I wrote a blog post called The Social Media Nuclear Option, explaining my concerns about the power of social media to distort public opinion. I have continued pursuing this topic, and am pleased to announce that I'll be co-chairing the Workshop on Identifying and Combating Disinformation in Big Data at the 2018 IEEE Conference on Big Data.

The workshop will focus on the intersection of computer science, archival science, and social science. Its discussion will aim to discover new strategies to counter disinformation.

I am excited and grateful for this opportunity to contribute to solving such a dangerous problem.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Writing from Start to Finish

I'm teaching a course called, "Writing from Start to Finish" at Mercy Vineyard Church April 18th and 25th. For anyone in the class, or anyone else interested, here are the slides. I pulled out the references for quick access.




References


Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Points Don't Matter, Except When They Do

Update: The game is live at gsrgame.smithdtyler.com!

Over the last couple of months I've been doing classroom trials of the Goodnight Server Room app. I've tested the app with toddlers, second graders, middle school students, and even a few college students.  What surprised me most was how quickly the second graders caught on to the concepts in the game, but second most was just how much everybody loves getting points.

300 points, but I'm just getting started
The app lets students proceed through the games as quickly as they want - there aren't gates or levels like you might find in traditional video games. I wanted it that way so that my preschooler would not get stuck on the first page.

Usually when I have a room full of students playing the game a few of them race through it in a couple of minutes.

I see hands go up, "I'm done!"

"How many points did you get?" I ask.

"750!" someone shouts.

"900!" comes the challenge from across the room.

With this exchange the timbre of the whole room suddenly shifts. The activity is no longer about just going through the steps to move on to the next thing. Now it's about exploring. I don't tell the students how to get points, I just let them search. It doesn't take long for them to discover that they keep getting more points by solving more binary puzzles.

Students at Sauk Middle School playing Goodnight Server Room

Now they're not just engaged, they're actively seeking out opportunities to learn (though by now they've gotten that part, they're just having fun).


Thursday, March 22, 2018

My changing Facebook calculus

For years I lived in an awkward truce with Facebook. Facebook hosted my family photos, political rants, and updates on side projects. In exchange, I accepted that Facebook would use my profile information to show me targeted advertisements. I even made some of those advertisements myself to help market my books.

This week's revelation that Facebook's lax rules on app developers sharing profile information led to 50 million people's profiles being used for electioneering broke the truce. I don't know if my profile information was shared, but it's clear that millions of people had their information released to a third party without their consent.

Unlike other data breach cases, this wasn't a hack. This was just a clear illustration of Facebook's lack of concern for user privacy. This broke the truce.

I'm not going to delete my account. In an age of identity theft and imposter accounts, Facebook still provides a useful tool for asserting my identity. Quitting entirely would leave a Tyler-sized hole in Facebook that could be used to confuse my friends and relatives. Facebook still provides a useful way for me to foster confidence in my public key on the part of my friends.

What I am going to do is delete the majority of my content. Facebook broke the truce, so I'm taking away the content that helps drive traffic and generate their revenue.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Coloring Pages!


Emily Krueger made a couple of awesome coloring pages for Goodnight Server Room! Click on the links below for high resolution versions. Printing and copying for personal and classroom use is permitted.

High Resolution

High Resolution

Thursday, December 21, 2017

How to Print a Board Book

For a self published author, printing a board book is surprisingly difficult. Here's how I made it work.

For most types of books, printing today is remarkably easy. CreateSpace and similar print-on-demand services allow self published authors to print paperback copies of their work in small quantities without destroying their profit margins. Boutique printers like Lulu offer hardcover prints at workable prices. Almost nobody offers board book printing.

My Board Book: Goodnight Server Room

I considered a handful of board book printers that work with self published authors:

  • Print Ninja - Print Ninja offers overseas printing with U.S. based support.
  • Pint Size Productions - Pint Size productions (printer of Sandra Boynton books) is the only printer I could find that prints in the U.S. 
  • China One Printing - China One offers overseas printing with U.S. based support. Their online presence is much smaller than Print Ninja. 
Here's an overview of the key decision points. Note that these values reflect a snapshot and will change over time. I did not have shipping details for all quantities, so some costs are estimates based on quoted shipping for other quantities. Go directly to the companies for an accurate quote. 

Comparison of estimated unit costs, including shipping


Tip One: Shipping will get you

The table above includes shipping in all unit prices. Print Ninja's shipping costs were particularly high. I made the mistake of planning expenses based on Print Ninja's pre-shipping price, rather than their post-shipping price. They charge nearly $900 to ship 500 books, and over $1,300 to ship 2,000 books. Before making a decision, always check shipping costs.

Books are typically sold wholesale at about 50% of the retail price. That means I could expect to sell a board book like Goodnight Server Room to retailers for about $5.00. If I had opted for a small quantity, I would have had virtually no profit margin. Faced with this constraint, I decided to bite the bullet and order 2,000 copies.

Tip Two: Printing takes a long time 

I opted to use China One Printing. While I had hoped to use a U.S. manufacturer, the higher cost of Pint Size productions ruled them out. China One has an outdated web page and minimal staff, but I decided to trust them based on a recommendation from the author of Goodnight Loon

Printing took a quite a while (even though everything went perfectly). Here's a timeline:
  • August 2nd - Interior and exterior design files transferred
  • August 17th - Interior proof print shipped
  • ~September 1st - Printing begins
  • October 13th - Printing complete
  • November 20th - Book shipment clears U.S. customs
  • November 27th - Book shipment arrives in Minnesota
  • November 28th - I received the books

Tip Three: Get a physical proof

When I opened the boxes of books for the first time, I knew I had absolutely no recourse if the books did not turn out the way I wanted. I had 170 or so KickStarter backers eagerly expecting their books by Christmas and I did not have enough money left over to re-order if there was a problem. Thankfully, I was not too concerned. Why? Because I had paid the extra couple hundred dollars to get a physical proof. 

Printed proof of Goodnight Server Room

China One printed the interior of the book without the board book backing and sent it to me for approval before they printed the real books.

You can buy your own copy of Goodnight Server Room on Etsy!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Goodnight Server Room is available now!

Order Goodnight Server Room on Etsy!

Yesterday morning I drove to a warehouse in Minneapolis to pick up the books I've been waiting to see since I started this project in the beginning of 2017. My emotions were all over the place as I walked through the door and handed my paperwork to the woman behind the glass plate.

"You need a release order," she said.

I didn't know what a release order was, but it meant I couldn't take my books home yet. Dejected, I got back in the car and drove to work, hoping I hadn't run into an unexpected expense or customs snafu.

I went to work and told my coworkers, "I feel like I'm running a ponzi scheme. I've been promising these books for so long, and so many people have trusted me with their money. I want to fulfill these promises."

Two hours later I got an email that the paperwork had been finished and the books were now available to pick up. I raced to my car and headed back to the warehouse. This time she handed me a new form and sent me into the loading area to get them. I watched for ten minutes as a forklift driver raced around with other cargo before my turn came.

I grabbed the first box and cut it open, not knowing what to expect. I'd seen pictures of the finished books, but I had no way to know that these boxes were correct, undamaged, and ready to release. I cut the tape with my multitool and felt a rush of relief. The books looked great!

Two dock workers helped me load the boxes into my van, which sat much lower to the ground that it had before. I went back to the car and snapped a few photos before going on my way.